Alannah Myles is looking forward to the day when “one-hit wonder” doesn’t precede her name.
Few artists in the 1990s have soared so high and tumbled so quickly than the Canadian singer-songwriter. In 1990, she literally was on top of the world; her debut hit, the slow-burn rocker “Black Velvet,” went No. 1 in a handful of countries, including the United States, where the single and her self-titled debut album each sold more than 1 million copies. She also snared the Grammy Award for best rock female vocal performance and toured with Robert Plant, Tina Turner and Simple Minds.
And, technically, she wasn’t even a one-hit wonder. Her follow-up single, “Love Is,” cracked the Top 40.
But excessive touring, extremely high expectations, an unflattering reputation and a communication breakdown with Atlantic took a toll on Myles. In a flash, she went from international pop star to a difficult trivia question on VH1’s game show “My Generation” (imagine contestants staring blankly after being asked “Who sang ‘Black Velvet’?”).
“I know I have to explain it, where I’ve been all this time,” Myles said recently from her Toronto home, “because Americans have no idea what happened to me. Like George Michael, I had a fallout with my record company. It was terrible; it kept me in a prison for a year.
“I had mentally broken down from the exhaustion of the year and a half or two years it took touring and promoting the record. I was very close to death’s door on a few sobering occasions, and I’m still alive to talk about it. I’m happy, and I managed to turn my life around and felt perhaps maybe this was a calling, if I survived.”
Myles not only has survived, she has flourished with the arrival of her debut ARK 21 album, “Arival” (as in, “a rival”), released April 10. Her first album since 1995’s “Alannah,” “Arival” is typically diverse, filled with passion and driven by skill. Her raw, engaging voice is still there, but it has lost its angry edge, a sure sign that she is at peace with herself.
“I wanted it to be an organic, acoustically based retrospective of some of the favorite song styles and songwriting that I’ve remembered in my youth, like Marlene Dietrich or Leonard Cohen,” Myles said. “It’s a hybrid of complex characters and things that have moved me and collected for the album, mostly integrated in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Fleetwood Mac. The rockier stuff came from more of the same, what fans have come to expect on my records.
“In my head, the next album is my favorite, but this one is a good representative of its time. It’s still current, it still has a contemporaryness to it. As a songwriter, it’s definitely my coup, because I collaborate on all the songs except one.”
“Arival” is a nice transition for her, Myles said, especially after her last album failed miserably.
“This is doing real well in Europe,” she said, “but it’s tough in Canada because of the reputation for someone who has achieved that high stature of success, they tend to be little hard on you if you’ve made a big impact and word got out that you were this or that. Reputations are all escalated to epic proportions; you might as well get into movies because now you’re a star in their eyes for being an absolute dragon lady.”
When it comes to music videos, Myles pretty much concedes that there is no market for her.
“I’m not country, I’m not new-wave rock, I’m not grunge, I’m not Celine Dion. What am I?” she said. “This is the problem: Is there a slot for me? There never was a slot for me; there wasn’t one for ‘Black Velvet’ either. I made a rock record that went against the style of that period, and lo and behold, it’s a bluesy song, it comes out and goes No. 1 all around the world. Go figure.
“I’ve never really had an identity, per se, because I do so many different things, so if I just keep on performing and do what I do best, word of mouth will travel and I believe the listeners will make it happen.”
Confidence, self-reliance and a dash of humor kept her going through the hard times.
“What can you do? You have to keep your sense of humor,” Myles said. “The level of success I’ve had can turn you into a has-been after the sophomore jinx, but you know, the irony is when I began in Toronto, I was treated by the people at the record company (in Canada) like a has-been even before I had a hit record.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d still do it the same way. I don’t like what happened, because I worked hard for my success, but if it’s meant to be, my talent will win out and I will have success again.”
BWF (before we forget): The Alannah Myles album discography – “Alannah Myles” (Atlantic, 1990); “Rockinghorse” (1992); “Alannah” (1995); “Arival” (ARK 21, 1998). … Herald her arrival on the Web @ www.ark21.com.